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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Ron Darling, Frank Viola and NCAA baseball’s greatest game ever, 40 years on

The “considerable event” is now widely considered to be the greatest college baseball game ever played. It was a pitching duel for the ages between two future big-league all-stars, both of whom ground their way into extra innings like earthmovers, saturating the box score with zeros for three hours, until a final score of 1-0 was finally hung on the scoreboard as darkness fell over the old gray and green ballpark. The two pitchers left the field that night to a standing ovation. On this date every year since, that applause starts again. Angell’s essay from that day, “The Web of the Game,” considered perhaps the greatest baseball essay ever penned, is retweeted again. And people stare at those stat lines in disbelief again.

Ron Darling, Yale: 12 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 16 K, 190 pitches thrown, no-hitter through 11
Frank Viola, St. John’s: 11 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 8 K, 160+ pitches thrown

“I’m a little surprised how the story of that game continues to be told,” Darling recalled when asked about the game last fall. He was a 20-year-old junior that day in ‘81. “Because I think the last person who can enjoy an athletic event is the person who’s in the middle of it. Especially when that person is pitching the game of his life but can never get comfortable because the other guy is doing the same.”

“I am 61 years old, I have been in baseball since I was a teenager, and it is the greatest game I have ever seen pitched,” Viola remembered on Wednesday, sitting in a dugout in High Point, North Carolina, where he is the pitching coach for the independent minor league High Point Rockers. “I witnessed David Cone striking out [19] Phillies; I saw Chris Bosio throw a no-hitter against the Red Sox in Seattle; Roger Clemens, Doc Gooden, you name it. None were better than what I saw that day. And it wasn’t me. It was Ronnie.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 26, 2021 at 10:50 PM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: college baseball, frank viola, ron darling

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   1. Lonnie Smith for president Posted: May 27, 2021 at 04:15 PM (#6021158)
Roger Angell was there. So was Smoky Joe Wood. Where were you...?
   2. AndrewJ Posted: May 27, 2021 at 04:44 PM (#6021164)
EDIT: This game took place just before the 1981 MLB strike, not unlike the beginning of the 33-inning Pawtucket/Rochester game -- it was easy for contemporary reporters like Angell to compare/contrast the energy of this game to the players/owners impasse.

Joe Wood died on July 25, 1985. He was 95.

My first SABR regional was three days later in Cooperstown, following the HOF inductions. Cliff Kachline began the meeting by announcing Smoky Joe's death.
   3. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 27, 2021 at 05:24 PM (#6021174)
Where were you...?

Probably playing with blocks in my living room in Corvallis, Oregon, as I was all of 13 months old.
   4. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: May 27, 2021 at 06:15 PM (#6021181)
Where were you...?

I was 17, it was close to summer in California and I had a girlfriend named Kari who gave Brinkley a run for her money in a swimsuit. I was NOT watching baseball....
   5. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 27, 2021 at 07:52 PM (#6021196)
Ron Darling, Yale: 12 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 16 K, 190 pitches thrown, no-hitter through 11

A Game Score of 104...and he lost!
   6. winnipegwhip Posted: May 27, 2021 at 09:21 PM (#6021213)
I was in grade 11 and I was purging my music collection of bands like Eagles, Van Halen, Queen and Supertramp and buying the likes of The Jam, The Clash, The Specials, XTC, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag.
   7. Bourbon Samurai stays in the fight Posted: May 27, 2021 at 09:22 PM (#6021214)
I was about 6 months old.

That Angell story is fantastic
   8. Howie Menckel Posted: May 27, 2021 at 09:37 PM (#6021218)
that Angell story was then, and is now, the best baseball story I have ever read.
   9. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 28, 2021 at 07:07 AM (#6021276)
One odd thing about this story is the fate of Steve Scafa. He scored the only run that day, breaking up Darling's no-hitter, then stealing second, third and home (on a double steal). The Yankees drafted him and he spent the summer in Oneonta.

And...that was it, after he slashed 229/463/305, with 28 steals in 29 attempts. His defensive stats at 2B looked OK, and you'd think somebody would want an exceptionally fast 21-year-old kid who can get on base, as roster filler at least. But I guess the Yanks took one look at that batting average and noped out, releasing him after the season.
   10. AndrewJ Posted: May 28, 2021 at 12:19 PM (#6021330)
In May of 1981 I was in the 7th grade, and had just read Dan Okrent's Sports Illustrated profile of Bill James. I was so intrigued I recall writing down the expanded formula for Runs Created in my math notebook.
   11. depletion Posted: May 28, 2021 at 09:00 PM (#6021416)
May 21, 1981 was 3 days after I did a gig at CBGB's in NY. By day I worked on the Hubble Telescope and another optical satellite. I was into baseball then, but the Mets were not a good team, so my interest was damped.
   12. Howie Menckel Posted: May 28, 2021 at 09:34 PM (#6021422)
I was a sophomore in college, and only a few weeks earlier actually covered a doubleheader involving this very same St. John's baseball team - and, guh, there was nothing at all memorable about it.

   13. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 30, 2021 at 09:54 AM (#6021564)
#9 Scafa apparently runs baseball camps on Long Island and has an auto glass business.

   14. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 30, 2021 at 11:04 AM (#6021570)
Scafa came along at the wrong time. If he was a 21-year-old with those skills today, he'd have the option of playing in the independent leagues or MLB organizations would be a lot more appreciative of his speed and that .463 OBA. Oh, well.

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